Do you have concerns about your memory?

Ahead of Alzhimer's Tea Day next month, Dr Michelle O'Driscoll looks at dementia
Do you have concerns about your memory?

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for up to 50% of cases. Picture: Stock

DEMENTIA is an umbrella term that refers to a range of conditions that damage the brain and lead to issues with memory, concentration and the use of language.

There are different types of dementia, dependent on the underlying pathology.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for up to 50% of cases. It essentially occurs when protein builds up in the brain and creates plaques and tangles that affect the signaling between the neurons. On top of this, neurotransmitter levels reduce, and certain areas of the brain shrink in size.

Memory loss is the typical symptom noticed, but it can also present as not finding the right words to express yourself, a change in mood, or difficulty in finding your way in familiar places. 

Daily tasks get disrupted, and it can be incredibly frustrating and upsetting for sufferers, and loved ones watching it unfold.

There is no definitive way to prevent Alzheimer’s, it’s thought to be attributable to a combination of genetics, age, lifestyle and environment. Nonetheless, following typical healthy lifestyle advice gives your brain and vascular system the best chance of staying as healthy as is possible. This includes avoiding smoking and alcohol, exercising regularly, staying hydrated and eating well. Sleep is important for brain health, as is staying mentally and socially active. However, even when adhering to all of these things, Alzheimers can still occur, and it’s about diagnosis and management from that point onwards.

If you have any concerns about your memory, the first port of call is to your GP. They will guide you through the next steps, which may include referral to a specialist. 

You might be asked to carry out mental ability tests, or go for a brain scan for a better understanding of what’s going on.

Keeping a diary of the deteriorations you’re noticing will be helpful to refer to when you sit down to speak with them, or bringing a loved one to the appointment who is witnessing your challenges is also useful, as they may be able to explain from another perspective the symptoms being experienced and witnessed.

Everybody’s treatment path is different, but it’s common to be prescribed medication to reduce or control some of the symptoms of Alzheimers. Cholinesterase inhibitors may prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, which is a chemical messenger in the brain that’s important for memory and thinking. Increasing its levels can help to combat symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimers, and keep patients well for longer.

Supports are available for Alzheimer’s sufferers via www.alzheimer.ie, the website for the National Alzheimer’s Society. Here you will find the number for a national helpline, information about what to do in the early months after diagnosis, and information about how to support a loved one if they have been diagnosed.

Finding out you have Alzheimer’s can leave you with a lot of unanswered questions, and connecting with others in the same situation can be very helpful. You can search the support services available to you by county, and avail of the live chat function Monday to Saturday.

There is also guidance about how you can get proactive and become involved in Alzheimer’s research, giving sufferers a voice and contributing to the ongoing improvement in outcomes through taking part in studies, influencing budget submissions, and contributing to working groups. You can also find out more about corporate contributions or becoming a community champion.

An Alzheimer’s Tea Day is being organised nationally for May 5. We’re being invited to all come out and have a long-awaited cuppa, in aid of a worthy cause. It would be a perfect opportunity to get involved and support this worthy organisation by arranging an event in your area. Full information about how to take part is available on alzheimer.ie

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